Bethany Lutheran Church - Ishpeming Michigan

Pastor's Reflections

Bishop Tom Skrenes won’t complete his work as Bishop of the Northern Great Lakes Synod until the end of August, but a new bishop will be elected during the Synod Assembly in May (Sunday, May 21st to Tuesday, May 23rd). Because of that, this seems like a good time to offer some thoughts about him and his time as bishop.

Tom was the assistant to Bishop Dale Skogman when I was called to serve in L’Anse in 1996, so the first time I met him was at Synod Assembly that year. What I remember, is that as we were milling around in the narthex at Messiah, Marquette, prior to the opening of the assembly, Tom made a point of not just welcoming me to the synod but also welcoming Kathy, understanding as he did the importance of a spouse's role in the life of a pastor. It perhaps seems like a small thing, but it was something I noticed. Upon Bishop Skogman’s retirement, Tom was elected as bishop in 1999, not long before I accepted the call to return to New England. A couple of years later, when I had a desire to return to the NGLS, Tom helped to make that possible, presenting me as a candidate here at Bethany.

Since accepting the call to Ishpeming in 2003, Bishop Skrenes and I have worked together on a number of synod committees including Synod Council, the Campus Ministry board and the Lay School board. We travelled together to Nebraska for a conference a few years back and it was very enjoyable. We haven’t always agreed on everything, but to me, one of his strongest qualities has been his ability to be respectful of those with whom he disagrees and to expect, even demand the same level of respect among others who might have conflicting opinions. He shepherded the synod through the contentious sexuality conversations that resulted in the decisions made at the 2009 Churchwide Assembly. It was a painful time for him not so much because of the decisions themselves but because of his fears about the division that would be created in the church he loves. Division did take place, including some churches in our synod choosing to leave the ELCA.

Bishop Skrenes was re-elected in 2005 and again in 2011. In 2011, I wound up second in the election. I left my name in the mix not because I felt called to be bishop, but because I thought it would be good to have a conversation about issues affecting the synod. We had that conversation and Bishop Skrenes was subsequently re-elected which was the right outcome. In fact, I think he has been at his best during these past six years. The division following 2009 still exists but Tom accepted the decision that was made and has done his best to keep the synod moving in a positive direction despite the challenges caused by declining numbers and dollars. The synod is smaller, that’s true, but in many ways it is healthy and there is good ministry taking place on many fronts. Bishop Skrenes’ leadership has had something to do with that!

I think it is safe to say that in his roles as Synod Secretary, Assistant to the Bishop and then as Bishop for the past eighteen years, Tom Skrenes has had a greater impact on this synod than any other individual. Serving as bishop can be a thankless job because no matter what you do, someone will be upset. There have been times that I’ve been among those upset, but I have always respected Bishop Tom and I know that whether I’ve agreed with him or not, he has always seen himself as a servant of Christ and a steward of the church and has acted in ways that he felt would best serve the mission of Jesus Christ.

I don’t expect Tom to ride off into the sunset quite yet. Knowing him, he will work until his term is done and will do all he can to help the new bishop as the transition is made. I wish he and Luanne all the best as they move into a new chapter. It’s not the end, just the beginning of something new as I’m sure that they both will continue to find ways to serve. But for what has been done, using Jesus’ words, let me say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Pastor Geier

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Bethany Lutheran Church •715 Mather Avenue • Ishpeming, MI 49849
Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor •E-mail: revwgeier@charterinternet.com
Phone: 906-486-4351 •Fax: 906-486-9640 •E-mail: bethanyim@hotmail.com
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